An insider's tale is always interesting, and that's the main attraction of this second book by Gary Valentine, the founding bass player for Bowery-punks-turned-new-wave-stars Blondie. Now a London-based journalist, he recounts his New York experiences in the CBGB/Max's Kansas City whirl of Television, Patti Smith, the Ramones, Johnny Thunders, Suicide, Talking Heads, Wayne County, and more.
An insider’s tale is always interesting, and that’s the main attraction of this second book by Gary Valentine, the founding bass player for Bowery-punks-turned-new-wave-stars Blondie. Now a London-based journalist, he recounts his New York experiences in the CBGB/Max’s Kansas City whirl of Television, Patti Smith, the Ramones, Johnny Thunders, Suicide, Talking Heads, Wayne County, and more.He also tells of touring with Blondie before departing in 1977, and later escapades with his own act, the Know, in L.A and New York. The closing chapter has Valentine recalling often-hilarious misadventures amid the sex-drugs-and-rock-’n’-roll frenzy of a 1981 tour in Iggy Pop’s band. Two sections of rare photographs, many taken by actress-writer Lisa Persky (Valentine’s then-girlfriend), provide intimate portraits of the early Blondie and others. These shots also offer visual testament to Valentine’s assertion that he helped originate the skinny-tie look that became de rigueur for new-wavers. Valentine penned two early U.K. Blondie hits, “X-Offender” (co-written with Harry) and the often acclaimed “(I’m Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear.” Both have fascinating real-life backstories, especially the former, drawn from a comical-to-tragic series of events involving his early, underage girlfriend. In fact, some of the book feels like a novel-length expansion on the song’s short story: the tale of a boy ingenue in a more innocent-yet-experimental time, who falls in with wild company, has variously fun, sad, and scary adventures, yet emerges from a danger-fraught flashpoint of pop-music history essentially unscathed, though not unchanged. Valentine isn’t the most scintillating writer, but his voice is honest and his ruminations clear-headed. The book is marred by far too many typos and misspelled proper names, however. Still, Valentine paints vivid images, particularly of the sights, sounds, and smells of the Big Apple’s fledgling punk world. He mixes warm remembrances of Harry and Stein with cool recollections of their fading camaraderie, creating an image of Blondie’s brain trust as insular, impulsive, and inexplicable. Even back in the day, Valentine seemed to hold himself as an outsider amid the inner circle, lending authenticity to his stories of infighting and rivalries. He often uses his ultra-dry wit on himself, but he also reveals the less flattering sides of Harry, Stein, and such revered figures as Smith and Television’s Tom Verlaine, reminding us that rock stars’ human shortcomings tend to be as epic as their other larger-than-life qualities.